A new study by Northwestern University in Chicago reports that mindfulness training for individuals with early-stage dementia and their caregivers eases depression and improves sleep and quality of life.
The study included 37 participants including 29 individuals who were part of a patient-caregiver pair. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia while others had memory loss due to strokes or frontotemporal dementia. Caregivers included patients’ spouses, adult children, a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.
The participants attended eight sessions designed specifically for the needs of patients with memory loss and for the needs of their caregivers. Both groups completed an assessment within two weeks of starting the program and within two weeks of completing it.
“The disease is challenging for the affected person, family members and caregivers,” said study lead author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Northwestern.
“Although they know things will likely get worse, they can learn to focus on the present, deriving enjoyment in the moment with acceptance and without excessive worry about the future. This is what was taught in the mindfulness program.”
The training also helps the patient and caregiver accept new ways of communicating.
This is the first study to show that the caregiver and the patient both benefit from undergoing mindfulness training together. This is important because caregivers often don’t have much time on their own for activities that could relieve their emotional burden.
The training also helps the patient and caregiver accept new ways of communicating, scientists said.
“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities,” noted study co-author Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg and a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.”
Paller had expected mindfulness to be helpful for dementia caregivers based on previous research in the field. But he was uncertain whether a program would be successful for patients with memory impairments and whether patients and their caregivers could be trained together.
“We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of life for both groups,” said Paller.
“After eight sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives.”
Northwestern doesn’t necessarily offer this program to those outside of the study. For guided mindfulness practices, listen to free podcasts on the Presence Care Project website. The Project is a new, innovative mindfulness-based dementia care training for family and other care partners (caregivers), founded by Marguerite Manteau-Rao, LCSW, ATR.